'The Music of a People...'

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

via Pinterest
As my fingers touched the keys, I could hear Mary play Chopin's trois nocturnes on the piano next to me, the warm evening lamp-lights of the living room cast pleasant shadows on the walls, and  Dad was reading on his arm-chair while my sisters and I tried to coax him that Les Miserables movie would be a movie he'd like to watch after all with us and mum. (Why is it so hard to get dad's to watch new movies, I ask you? ^_^) Everything was pretty relaxed Friday evening, I was trying to summon up the courage to write this post, since I have not kept up a daily Blog-Party posting since last week (forgive me, pretty please?). But then everyone invaded the room in the way our family is famously wont to do, and we got to choosing what we would watch (a big ordeal with us unless Lord of the Rings is on the menu, in which case it gets the cake).  I am so glad though, that after trying out a disappointing new movie titled, Return to the Hiding Place (more on that in another post), we decided to switch movies and even Dad agreed to watch Les Miserables after all. It was beautiful, and we all loved it (Dad included!) and were so inspired and blessed by the beautiful themes of the tale (we did skip the two inappropriate scenes with Fantine and then later with the Master of the House song by the way). But I found it so amazing at just how Christian the whole story was, a tale of grace and love, and focused on the redemptive story. And the singing...? My mum, sisters and I have been humming the songs empty chairs and do you hear the people sing? non-stop since Friday ;). Okay, I will best keep a proper review of this film for later, along with some others on my 'blog-to-do' list since it is well worth it. However when I came back to write this post today, I got to wondering what of the many varied topics posed to me in Get 'em Tigers! post I should write up first...and then the thought struck me that with all the Les Mis songs running through my head, what better topic to write about but a musical/literary one!  At least two of you (Schuyler and Annie), have both asked music-related questions regarding to my writing, and I think I am going to have fun answering them now! So here I go :).

Do you pick music theme songs for your characters? 
- Schuyler

Oh generally, yes, I do, and I so love it when I find a song that 'clicks'. The thing is, because I tend not to listen to any secular songs besides the ones in my favourite movies, musicals or folk songs, so a lot of the time it can be a challenge to choose theme songs from beloved Christian songs and classical hymns that would match the characters and their story arc. However, that hasn't stopped me from 'finding' those songs in which I suddenly exclaim to myself, 'Stop! That's Flavius - all the way!' or get inspired so much by a song that it actually helps form the character of one of my heroes. And then, of course, I save that song onto my iPod, and hit repeat more times than I care to count. Also, especially with my novels, I tend to love having theme instrumental tracks (Howard Shore, Harry-Gregson Williams, John Williams, etc), sometimes even more than the ones with lyrics, because they just fit overall character and story-themes perfectly. 

On this blog I might have scratched the surface of theme songs that I use for my novel, The Crown of Life, however, I have increased my theme songs to quite a list by now since my last Beautiful People posts regarding its cast, and of course I haven't shared anything regarding that with A Love that Never Fails yet; besides not even making a post introducing the principle cast... gracious, that must be remedied! So, ladies, may I please introduce you to the theme songs for my different characters...

Valerius 
from the Crown of Life
Boil it down, and Valerius has been a character that has lived with me, in my inner imagination and thought, with little major changes for over five to six years. I guess you could call him the firstborn child of my pen, and he will always hold that special place for me as a writer. As for theme songs, for a long while I have been inspired by Graham Kendrick's song, Knowing Youfor the faith and longing of Valerius' heart, to 'know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings', and also presenting the theme of the cost and sacrifice of giving up everything to gain Christ and follow in His steps; so this is probably the main one. Kendrick's Consider it Joy is another appropriate one for Valerius; the Sons of Korah's  album, The Light of Lifehas been such an influential part in sparking the element of the sufferings Valerius goes through, with the beauty of the Psalms for inspiration, along with other songs from the Sons of Korah band, like 'Pilgrim' (Rain), 'It's Over Now' (Light of Life), 'Whom Shall I Fear' 'One Thing' and 'In the Day of Trouble' (Live Recordings Vol 1). 'Born Again', and 'In Love for Me' from the musical, The Witness by Jimmy and Carol Owens for more overall Crown of Life theme inspirations. I am also particularly fond of Into the West by Annie Lennox that both suits Valerius and his bride, Claudia, in that promise they have of one day reaching an eternal home and joy everlasting. As instrumentals, Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings and Braveheart composed by James Horner have been the most inspirational instrumental soundtracks for his overall story I think. 

Flavius
from The Crown of Life
Flavius. There need not be much debate about his theme song! Cliche as it may sound, I would say his theme song, the song that most affected me in discovering his depth of guile and moral degradation forming the three-dimensional aspects of his character, would be Gollum's Song. It just fits so perfectly... ^_^. I know my family tend to wrinkle their nose at this song and mute it when we reach the end of the Two Towers film, (for it is a song full of self-pity and misery!), yet it immensely helped me see the wretched, twisted heart of Flavius, even as Gollum/Smeagol himself is depicted in The Lord of the Rings. The torment and grief in his character, his queer mixture of cruel treachery and weakness; the bitterness of what life and humanity had done to him, and his response to it. It is so heartbreaking. I know it doesn't really fit but just for inspiration (the music, lyrics, etc are beautiful) I love listening to Javert's song, Stars, in the Les Miserables musical when I work with Flavius' character; that and Javert's Suicide. Perhaps more than anything, the fact that Javert firmly believes what he does to be moral and right, it is much the same with Flavius. Did I ever tell you that Javert was another inspiration as I wrote Flavius' character? Well, now you know. Robin Hood 2010 soundtrack captures something of Flavus' theme for an instrumental.
'Where once was light
Now darkness falls
Where once was love
Love is no more
Don't say goodbye
Don't say I didn't try...'

Claudia
from The Crown of Life
For Claudia, her theme songs make me so sad and tearful and yet happy inside as well. She's like that with a beautiful, happy, pained dignity about her whole character that makes the music reflect that as well. Annie Lennox's beautiful song, 'Into the West', definitely would be hers. Also, there is something of Claudia's theme in Show Me by Audrey Assad... 'Bind up these broken bones, mercy bend and breathe me back to life... but not before You show me how to die.' 'Come Away with Me' (Sing, O Zion) is another beautiful, appropriate song with that element of the tender yet powerful call she receives from hearing about Jesus. And another one that often makes me think of Claudia would be Arwen's Song, sung by Liv Tyler, if anything because I have found so much to draw from the character of Arwen in regards to inspiration and themes for this particular character of mine, but also the words themselves are quite telling of the relationship of Valerius and Claudia at one point. Braveheart would be her theme instrumental album.

Julius
from The Crown of Life
Julius, minor character though he is, has a particular song reserved for him that, to me, seems to perfectly fit his story, the bittersweet sadness of his life, the life of a soldier poignantly. Every time I listen to the full soundtrack of Gods and Generals, and stop by the song 'Going Home' Julius comes to mind... his longing to return home brings a little pang to me, and I wish like those mere boys, that they did go home.

Anthea
from The Crown of Life
Jolly, but I 'get cobble-webs of joy' just thinking of my darling vivacious Anthea. But you know when a parent sort of takes a long time to realize that the child of their youth is growing up? It is the same with me and Anthea, coming as quite the shock, when I realized how much growing up she does over the course of The Crown of Life. I think you know enough about Anthea to know a taste of her childish, spunky side, however there is the 'growing' and more 'serious' part of her that such theme songs as, To Believe sung by Jackie Evanchio have helped establish and nurture. Another perfect song that establishes something of her later importance in the tale and the burden placed upon her would be Enya's May it Be. Another song that comes to mind would be In the Night (My Hope Lives On) by Andrew Peterson.

Grandmamma 
from A Love that Never Fails
The more I write in A Love that Never Fails, the more I grow fond of Jane's grandmother. She's such an amazing woman. And for all her love and comforting strength, she has her own struggles and fears; she too has had a lot to give up. She too learnt what it means to love. For Grandmamma,  I think of such songs as 'Carry the Fire' by Andrew Peterson that match that steadfast spirit of hers, despite taking a while to warm to that particular song... yet, if it were not for the music, the words are truly fitting for this woman. I am not so sure how fitting the song is, but the song 'You'll Never Walk Alone (My Gift To You)' by Richard Rodgers makes me think of Grandmamma, and so does Never Say Goodbye as well.

Ernest
from A Love that Never Fails
I don't believe I have introduced you to him before. But he is a fine fellow! To be perfectly candid, I have not featured him into any of the actual scenes I've written so far. But his part (which is quite a vital one) has been growing in my mind for future scenes in the novel for quite a while now; he is in a way one of the main protagonists of the story. To give you a splattering of information on who the youngster is, well, he is a young army pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and is involved in the Allied air attacks on Germany. I can't tell you much else of him at this stage, but I can assure you that you'll probably hear lots more of him as I continue writing. For him, a song like Empty Chairs at Empty Tables fits perfectly. It depicts his life as a soldier so vividly, the loss of his friends, the grief of war, and his sorrow that 'I live and you are gone'. Though these two are for me relatively new songs, Rich Mullins' If I Stand is a beautiful one that suits well in its solidness and assurance in the grace and mercy of God; Psalm 91 by Sons of Korah is one of a promise of protection, which Ernest clings on to daily in the war-front. The other one which I was a little reluctant at first to add to the list is Andrew Peterson's You'll Find Your Way. I am not awful fond of Peterson's music generally, but in this case, I think the song has a theme that fits Ernest well, and echoes the gentle words of wisdom his mother, back in Australia, would have told him before he became a soldier and went off to war.

George
from A Love that Never Fails
George's theme songs are ones of fatherhood more than anything else, but also of faith and hope; Bring Him Home reminds me so much of George, for his love for his men, especially Ernest, is very strong and sacrificial. The Call by Regina Spektor is perhaps the closest to characterize the loneliness and sadness he feels for leaving his little girl, Jane, behind as he goes into a war for the second time in his life. But he has hope too and a deep trust in God's faithfulness, so He's Always Been Faithful by Sara Groves fits; the solidness and strength of his faith calls for a doxology though, so here it is.

Jane
from A Love that Never Fails
It is telling that Jane doesn't have many theme songs. There is a simplicity to her character, and yet a certain strength and greatness of heart that her life or person cannot be summoned up in a song or two (a bit like how it is for us in real life). Also, perhaps because she's the main character, I am more picky with the themes I pick; for a while in fact,  I did not have much of a theme song for her, and all that I could come up with was her favourite song which is, Jesus, Lover of my soul by Charles Wesley. A fitting hymn, actually, and I have been tempted to leave it at that. However, I have found two songs that while not being theme songs, are ones that fit perfectly some of the times and struggles in the life of Jane: You Raise Me Up is beautiful and so uplifting, I can imagine how encouraging this theme would be to Jane in her darkest and most pain-filled moments. 'I am strong when I am on Your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be...' Harry-Gregson Williams' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie soundtrack album and The Hobbit by Howard Shore are her instrumental theme tracks, they just suit her so perfectly (the Blitz, 1940, Evacuating London and The Adventure Begins especially). Her other song is by Laura Story, Blessings.
Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

Do you find listening to music whilst writing helping or distracting? 
- Annie

Elizabeth from The Endless Road asked much the same question in her tag months ago, Annie. The answer is that it generally depends on the mood I am in as I am writing. Sometimes it can prove an inspiration (especially putting on the music I have on Spotify or on one of my YouTube playlists), and at other times, when I am struggling for words or am nose-high in the emotions of a scene I'd rather be in complete quiet. The genre of music I prefer to listen to while writing would be instrumental music mostly as songs with lyrics, while proving an inspiration at other times, is quite distracting as I write. My favourite kind of instrumental music would be movie soundtracks or at times classical music, quiet Christian songs, gentle pop-songs or church-music. I intend to share in another post sometime who/what some of my favourite music bands and composers are, but, for now I will say that my favourite movie soundtrack composers are Howard Shore, Harry-Gregson Williams, John Williams, David Arnold, James Horner and some other less known ones like the composers for movies such as, Luther, The Nativity, Gods and Generals, Becoming Jane... etc. So yes, I do listen to music as I write, and movie soundtracks undoubtedly rank among my top list of 'inspiration for imagination' when talking about literary inspiration.

So that, my dear friends, is a peep at the songs that have inspired me in my differing characters, and have helped me ground themes in the overall telling of their stories over the years. Do tell me what songs inspire you with your characters, for I would love to know!

7 sweet note(s):

  1. That was a very interesting read, Joy! Wow! How on earth did you manage to find all those songs to match the characters...I don't know all of them...but they really give a new dimension to your characters!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Love you,
    Sarah
    (from ofsimplethings-sarah.blogspot.com and gemsinhistory-sarah.blogspot.com)

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  2. What a lot of fun, Joy! Thanks for answering my question; it was very interesting. :) You chose a lot of good pieces, and from the little I know of your story, I think they fit the theme of it quite well.

    Believe it or not, I actually have music for my character's different moods. If my sidekick in my current novel is supposed to be angry, I pull up one song, and if he's happy I pull up another. But his "angry song" is only for him. It doesn't work for anyone else--if that makes sense!

    "I Dreamed a Dream" is the theme music for one of my characters, and "Walking in the Air" is the theme music for one of my couples. Odd, that...

    But you never know what's going to capture the essence of who they are. :)

    Actually, I prefer listening to vocals when I'm working, though I'm not sure why. I think they keep me from getting distracted, something that I tend to do during the 'silence' of instrumental music. But certainly there is no wrong way, and there are times when I have to shut the vocals off when I need some intense concentration. :)

    ~Schuyler

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  3. I am glad you enjoyed this post, my Swister Sarah!! <3

    Well, yes, many of those songs are relatively new that really suited my characters or have been an inspiration otherwise. You are right about that - it does help :D. Thank you, dear Sarah! I LOVE YOU <3

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  4. I am so glad you enjoyed this post, Schuyler, and the songs within it; to be honest, some of the songs I found and saw fitting only as I wrote the post and searched for each characters, but a lot of them have been with me for a long time as well; it has been so helpful and inspiring for the characters! I had fun answering the question, and I truly loved all the questions you posed by the way ^_^.

    Wow, I never thought or heard of this idea before, to have a song for the different moods of a character! That makes a lot of sense, but I don't think I really have many songs of my knowledge to suit the differing moods of the characters. I totally get the idea how one song couldn't suit the other - actually is rather good idea! :D

    I love "I Dreamed a Dream" though it is awfully sad and tragic - hmm, now that you told me a bit of what your novel is about, I am wondering which character that might be! 'Walking on Air' - I never heard that song. That's very true about capturing the essence of the character in the song ... I know Mary wrinkles her nose whenever I want to listen to the song 'Gollum's Song' and I have to dramatically explain 'IT IS FOR FLAVIUS' ^_^

    I actually haven't tried it often to listen to vocals as I write - but upon occasion I have found myself absently typing up the words of the song in my story!! Quite odd, that. I normally focus well with instrumental, considering I use it with my schoolwork as well, to keep me from distractions - it has a way of soothing my thoughts and mood into the scene I want to write. Isn't it funny how every writer has different preferences and different methods work best for him or her? Thanks for telling me your thoughts on that too, Schuyler! It is fun =)

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  5. This was a post I throughly enjoyed. And just reminds me how much I really need to get to know my characters better. like through music. I never thought to have a theme song specifically for each character.
    I know what I'm spending my time doing... I do have like a song that goes with the theme or feeling of the novel, but characters, thats a new idea. Ine I shall explore. It really sounds like you know your characters well, and it makes me want to get to know them too.
    I finely answered your tag http://hopespuntreasures.blogspot.com/
    I loved your questions, ones that are totally unique and amazing and literature backed. This was the first tag I have done that I enjoyed.
    Blessings ~ Rachel Hope.

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  6. You are so sweet, Rachel! I always thoroughly enjoy reading your beautiful comments - thank you, dear. <3

    I guess the idea to have a theme song for each of my characters came from joining some of the Beautiful People blog tags for my particular characters where often one of the questions was whether I had a song for them. That made me brainstorm through all the songs I knew till I bumped into one that 'clicked': also I noted that modern movies (I first noted it with Narnia and LOTR) often have a theme song at the end of the movie, usually focusing on the journey of one or two characters... so once I started searching and coming across songs I felt suited my characters, it was an inspiration to hear that song and think on those themes while I wrote them, just as much as when looking at a Pinterest storyboard or theme quotes. It is very character inspirational! I think you'd enjoy doing it with your writing as well, Rachel :). That being said, I doubt having theme songs will necessarily mean your characters will be more genuine and interesting, but it can be a tool with which to discover and reaffirm their characters. For example, i have only had a rough idea of Ernest's character and history till when I found Peterson's song 'Find Your Way Home' and then I started getting all those ideas.... ^_^

    Ooh, thanks for joining up in the tag questions, Rachel! It was a lot of gun reading your responses to these questions on your blog and am tickled you enjoyed it like this. I shall try to comment on your sweet post soon, Lord willing. Would you care that I do another one?

    God bless!

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  7. (I hope you don't mind the unconventional-ness of my commenting on an old post)

    This was fun! I recognized several songs in the listings, which is always lovely, and it's certainly made me more interested in The Crown of Life. ^.^ I didn't think to add to my sums the film scores I listen to while writing; perhaps because there are many diverse regions, or perhaps simply because I forgot. ;)

    But movie scores are just as inspiring as worded tracks, for the music will speak on it's own.

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